Editor’s note: Although the following is a homily given on the recent Feast of St. John the Baptist’s Nativity, the staff of Catholic Exchange agreed that on account of its stirring call to all Catholics to stand up for religious liberty, it deserves to be read by all people of good will here on this day before the official HHS ruling.
Some children are just destined for greatness. And St. John the Baptist was certainly one of them. His conception was announced by an angel, he was born of the elderly and barren Elizabeth; and when the pregnant Virgin Mary visited her cousin, Elizabeth, John leapt in his mother’s womb for joy being in the presence of Jesus his Savior.
Eventually John, as His father Zechariah had prophesied, would grow to be “the prophet of the Most High” and he would prepare the people for the arrival of Jesus the Messiah. This indeed was a great vocation for a great man. In fact, Jesus Himself would say that no man born of woman was greater than John—which must have made his parents proud!
Judging by the values of today, John would not have been the pride and joy of most parents—after all, his camel-skin clothes were not in fashion, he was not an athlete, he never attended the best schools, he didn’t have a high paying job, and he ended up as a prisoner for upholding God’s commands over the political leadership of his day—which in the end cost him his head.
And yet, in spite of worldly values, John is remembered as being “the greatest man born of woman” for faithfully carrying out his vocation to be a prophet, the baptizer of our Lord, and now forever a saint–and there is nothing greater or more successful than for you and I to become the saint God has created us to be!
John then is a powerful role model for us today and for several reasons. First, John was humble and in this humility he pointed everyone to Jesus rather than seeking attention for himself. Second, John spoke the truth, never watering it down—even to those in power. Finally, because of his faithfulness to the truth, John courageously embraced martyrdom and in doing so received eternal life.
Such conviction might be rare in our day, but there are still those who follow their consciences and rightfully place God’s law above any unjust law that violates the teachings of the Church. There are still many who are willing to fight to protect religious freedom which, although granted to us by God and protected by our Constitution, is threatened in our own day and in our own nation.
Certainly by now most of us are aware of the HHS mandate that forces practically all employers (including religious institutions) to pay for abortion-inducing drugs, sterilizations, and contraception even though this violates our religious beliefs. But there are many other threats concerning our religious freedom such as the Administration’s recent failed court case (Hosanna–Tabor v. EEOC) in which the government attempted to have a say in the hiring of a religious community’s minister or teachers; and also some recent state immigration laws that seek to restrict the Church’s freedom by criminalizing certain acts of charity and pastoral care (including the sacraments) to undocumented immigrants.
It is for all of these reasons (and others) that the U. S. Bishops, beginning this past Thursday, initiated 14 days of prayer and penance for the protection for our religious liberty. During these days of the “fortnight for freedom” the Church celebrates many saints who remained faithful in the face of persecution by political power and who consequently suffered martyrdom, saints such as John Fisher and Thomas More; Sts. Peter and Paul; the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome; St. John the Baptist. These special days of prayer will then end on July 4th—Independence Day—a day in which we celebrate our freedom as a nation! (Go to page 2)